The Kruger South Africa Walks


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The Kruger

Julia Bradbury heads out on foot in one of the world's most famous game reserves, the Kruger National Park, amongst the biggest and most dangerous beasts in Africa.


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South Africa is a country that always creates an impression.

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We know of its diverse population,

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the troubled history of apartheid

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and its rebirth as a global travel destination.

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I've been a fan of this country for many years,

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but this is my chance to go beyond the obvious South Africa,

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to explore on foot and take time to see how life

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and stunning landscape work today in the new South Africa,

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a country that's now keen to invite the world.

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Hello and welcome to one of the most famous wildlife reserves in the world, the Kruger National Park.

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Few tours of South Africa are complete without a visit to this massive expanse of wild Africa.

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It is, without doubt, one of the best places on the planet to come on safari.

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But I'm here to do something a little bit different.

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Out there, man has always struggled.

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It's full of uncertainty, danger and some very big animals.

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I'm here to explore that remarkable relationship between man and this land, and I'll be doing it on foot.

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There may be a lot of dangerous animals out there, but trust me,

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it is possible to come here and go for a walk.

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The Kruger is the country's number-one game park,

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home to lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino, the famous Big Five of Africa.

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It's difficult to believe that a million humans come here every year.

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They largely disappear in a vast area the size of Wales,

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a precious reserve where Africa runs free.

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This is Berg en Dal, one of the main rest camps in the Kruger National Park,

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a sort of safe haven for humans, if you will.

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But I'm going to take things a bit further.

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I'm heading out into the bush on something called the Wolhuter Trail.

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It's a little-known wilderness experience. I'm going to be living,

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walking and sleeping in an area that humans rarely venture.

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But I'm not going to be relying on my nose to keep me out of trouble.

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I'm going to have an expert ranger by my side at all times.

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Otherwise I'd be a fool.

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For those of us more used to encountering sheep and the odd rabbit,

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the prospect of this walk certainly causes some anxiety.

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I'm stepping into one of the world's great wildernesses,

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full of danger, legend and heroic tales of the African bush.

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Kruger is tucked away in the north-east corner of South Africa.

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Stretching for 350km north to south, it runs along the border

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with Mozambique, all the way to the border with Zimbabwe.

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But my adventure takes place in the southern end of the park.

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I'll be venturing out for a full two days in the Wolhuter Wilderness Area,

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where visitor numbers are strictly limited.

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My walk is based at the remote Wolhuter camp.

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From here, it's possible to explore the many watering holes,

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open plains, rivers and hills that make up this part of the Kruger.

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Got my bag packed. Small bag, as I hope you've noticed,

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-and this is Jaco. Hey, Jaco.

-Hello, Julia.

-Good to see you. Shall we get loaded up?

-Absolutely.

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'Jaco Badenhorst is my guide for the next two days.

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'A game ranger since 1992, he knows the Kruger like few others,

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'and specialises in taking walking groups out into the wilderness.'

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The moment you step outside Berg en Dal rest camp, you're in the Kruger proper.

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And for us, the tarmac quickly turns to dirt track.

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But before Jaco and I get any further, let's take a look at where we're heading.

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From Berg en Dal, the four-wheel drive follows the dirt track

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that leads into the Wolhuter Wilderness Area.

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My destination is the tiny and very basic trail camp,

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my place of refuge for 48 hours in the bush

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and the central point for my walk.

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From here, Jaco will lead me on a series of circular walks.

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We'll be following the tracks of the biggest beasts in Africa,

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exploring open plains and dry river beds.

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What we'll encounter, no-one can predict.

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There are no signposts, not even a planned route or a set distance.

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But at the end of my wilderness experience, there will be a climb,

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for Jaco has promised to take me to one of the many rocky outcrops of the area,

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the perfect viewpoint to take stock of everything I've learnt and discovered.

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Normally, eight people would come on a wilderness trail like this one, but don't think Jaco's got it easy,

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because he hasn't just got to look after me. He's got to look after this lot, as well.

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-And that is John in the back, he is known as our second rifle, he's looking after us as well.

-Hello!

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So whilst John's priority is the film crew, I'm sticking right next to Jaco.

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-There's a giraffe.

-Yeah, look at that, two minutes in.

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-Having a good time at that Knob Thorn.

-Yeah.

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And what we're doing, what we're about to do, is pretty rare,

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it's a special thing. Not many people do this every year, do they?

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No, there's only seven of these wilderness trails

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throughout the Kruger park, from north to south,

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and only a maximum of eight people per trail.

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And if you go back, I promise you you won't be the same person driving out of here than going in here.

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Thank you, John!

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So now we can breathe out and start to relax.

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We're in the Wolhuter Wilderness Area.

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No-one is allowed to go in on this road, and no-one is allowed to walk in this area while we're here,

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so for the next three days, basically this whole 62,000 hectares is yours.

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I like it!

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The exclusivity of this walk is truly exciting.

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The seven small groups of walkers dotted around the Kruger

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are the only members of the public regularly allowed into the national park's designated Wilderness Areas.

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Just setting out on this walk feels like a privilege.

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So here we are.

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Home sweet home.

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This...is a good wilderness camp.

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Look at that! Home for the next couple of days.

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Deep in the heart of the Wilderness, a 45-minute drive from Berg en Dal, lies the Wolhuter Trail Camp.

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Tiny and basic, it provides wooden huts to sleep in

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and some slight protection from what lives all around.

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Now, that is a loo...

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..with a view.

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This site was chosen in 1978, the very first trail camp in the Kruger.

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And fittingly, my walk was named after the legendary Harry Wolhuter.

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A century ago, he was one of the Kruger's earliest game rangers.

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Today, merely stepping out of the 4x4 is enough to give you a taste of his world.

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A pretty substantial herd of elephant.

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Just a few feet away.

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And this is the fence

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that protects us in our camp.

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Isn't that fantastic?

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But the real business of a wilderness experience doesn't start until the morning.

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And before that, as the noises and the big cats of the night take over,

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there's an important briefing to attend.

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Anything can get into a camp like this, at any time.

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You've seen the fence.

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We've had hyenas into the camp, and we've had a leopard come into the camp and sniff around.

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So the fence basically is just to keep you in, or to keep us in. It's not to keep the animals out.

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Tomorrow morning, what you normally do is you get up early in the morning, it's roughly about 5:00-ish.

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Nice and early call!

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But it's a nice time of the day.

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It's crisp, clear and nice air, morning air.

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The main reason why I'm sitting here with you tonight is to see that you get back in one piece.

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If we do get ourselves into a dangerous situation,

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which I will never, ever consciously lead you into,

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but if we get ourselves into a dark spot, just listen to what I tell you to do.

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If I say, "Stand still", then I mean stand still.

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If I say, "Get behind a bush,"

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or a log or a termite mound or whatever safe ground is available to us in that vicinity,

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then I will direct you to such a place.

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Otherwise, just try to enjoy it right from the word go. Get into it as soon as you can.

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-I'm already there!

-It looks like it!

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It's not often I say this, Jaco, but I'm looking forward to 5am!

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And so the next day, the whole crew and I are woken at first light.

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Dawn in the bush is undoubtedly a beautiful thing.

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I'm definitely not a morning person,

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but if there's one place in the world where you will get me smiling in the morning, it's Africa.

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And so the time has come when all normal sensibilities are put to one side.

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It's time to step out into a park packed with 1,000 leopards,

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1,500 lions and the Wolhuter area's undoubted star, the rhinos.

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To be walking through the Kruger at 6:00 in the morning is so exciting.

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You feel alive, exposed and ready for adventure.

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Unlike all previous walks, I have no idea where we're going.

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Jaco leads according to what he finds, so even he will never follow the same route twice.

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And despite my full briefing last night,

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the reality of walking with two men carrying rifles has quite an impact.

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Jaco, there's a fairly strong wind. That's good for us, isn't it?

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It's good for us, a consistent wind, that's what you want.

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If you approach dangerous animals, you stay above the wind.

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Specifically with elephant,

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eyesight's not that good.

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They go by smell?

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They go for smell. And hearing as well, very good hearing,

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but with elephant and rhinos, smell is a very important sense.

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So this wind protects us a little?

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It gives us the advantage, yeah.

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It wouldn't protect us, but it gives us an advantage.

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Nothing protects you out here. Apart from this!

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-We get to a nice animal highway.

-Ah.

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Not created by people.

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All animals on there.

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They use these footpaths to walk from waterhole to waterhole.

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Easiest way along the river course.

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So that's a good highway, an easy place for them from point A to point B.

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Whilst I'm worrying about what might lurk in every bush,

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I've also prepared for the greatest, yet tiniest, danger of all.

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A course of tablets should guard me against South Africa's only malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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Africa's biggest killer is a far greater threat than any lion, elephant, snake or scorpion.

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This is a good example, Julia, of middens, a white rhino midden.

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They've got these middens in and around their territories, specifically next to their footpaths.

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Bulls are very territorial, rhino bulls, they use the footpaths

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and they create these middens in and around their territories,

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just to put their scent, like a dog would lift his leg against a tree.

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This is the very end of the winter dry season,

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and at the first sign of rain, Jaco is sure all big animals will be heading for a waterhole.

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So of course, that's where he wants to lead me.

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-A little bathing spot.

-It's a good place to see animals.

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It's been dry up till now, but a bit of rain last night helped.

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I expect to see something here.

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-Ooh, elephant.

-There's an elephant.

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And further down, there's buffalo. Buffalo down there.

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Wow. Double sighting!

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It's a herd of buffalo.

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We saw the tracks earlier.

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They obviously came around,

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came down to drink, wallow and then back up.

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What I didn't realise is just how fearful of humans these massive creatures are.

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When we're hidden inside a noisy vehicle, they can seem quite relaxed.

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But as soon as they recognise a human being on foot, there's an immediate, intrinsic fear.

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These guys are totally relaxed because they don't know we're here.

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We've got the wind in our favour. The same with this buffalo that's only 40 metres away from us.

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It's fascinating, watching the elephant wander through the wild.

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How can an animal of such a huge size just disappear?

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They're literally behind a tree, behind a bush and invisible.

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We've got a good old buffalo checking us out here, look!

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And even once the animals have moved on, the world of the watering hole is full of information and insight.

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This is where large mammals come to bathe in mud

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and take a course of rubbing, a regular treatment for the niggling problem of ticks.

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A rhino would come and stand over it and he would rub himself.

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It's normally ticks getting stuck to the inside of the thighs or on the genital parts, armpits,

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cos that's where the skin is thin enough for a tick to go and penetrate.

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Getting rid of ticks by getting rid of the mud.

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They get rid of the ticks that get stuck or embedded in the mud.

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Look at this guy.

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I think he's hanging around, just waiting for a rhino

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to maybe come and rub himself so that he can jump back on.

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Nasty little things, ticks.

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Look at him, he's flailing around. He can sense us.

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Jaco's depth of knowledge is really quite astounding.

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He reads this landscape like a book.

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And every turn produces a new and unexpected lesson.

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If I squeeze it...

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-Mmm.

-Get all the water out.

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In the 19th century, at the height of the Transvaal gold rush,

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pioneering transporters braved lions, snakes and malaria

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as they crossed this land to reach the Indian Ocean.

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Their skills and adventures were made famous in the classic South African novel Jock Of The Bushveld.

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Today, Jaco uses the same skills to educate, entertain

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and, of course, conserve one of the world's great wildernesses.

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The complete turnaround in man's role here began in 1898,

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when Transvaal President Paul Kruger

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declared a game reserve, the first time there had been any attempt to control the impact of hunting.

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A white rhino cow and calf.

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Wow.

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We literally just walked into this pair!

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The wind was again in our favour, so we were downwind.

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Their eyesight is also not very good.

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You can see the ears going.

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-Yep.

-The radar out.

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You see there's a ditch between them and us.

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Their natural escape route would be going out the other way.

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And obviously that's good for us, because it'll help us!

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-A nice sighting.

-A really nice sighting.

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I've never been that close, actually, on foot.

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Day one on foot in the Kruger has been absorbing.

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Jaco's relaxed approach can easily make you forget about the reality of where you are.

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But as we head back to camp, he tells me of an occasion

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when a walker encountered a leopard inside the camp in the dead of night.

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It seems that occasionally, elderly animals prefer rummaging through bins

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to running after their own prey.

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Jaco has lent me this book. It's the memoirs of Harry Wolhuter,

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the pioneering game ranger from this park.

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One of the reasons he's famous is that he survived a lion attack.

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A pair of lions knocked him off his horse,

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one of the lions went after the horse itself and the other lion savaged him from the rear.

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"Of course, in those first few moments, I was convinced that it was all over for me.

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"But then as our painful progress still continued,

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"it suddenly struck me that I might still have my sheath knife.

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"I struck him twice in quick succession with two back-handed strokes behind the left shoulder.

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"The lion let out a furious roar, and I desperately struck him again, this time upwards into his throat.

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"I think this third thrust severed the jugular vein,

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"as the blood spurted out in a stream all over me."

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Now, as if that wasn't enough, lion number one, who was after the horse, came back for him,

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so he had to escape up a tree, and apparently it was only his faithful hunting dog barking

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that distracted that lion, and he survived.

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It's all very Jock Of The Bushveld, isn't it? And very exciting.

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The next day, filled with the heroics of Harry Wolhuter, there's a fresh feeling of apprehension.

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As a newcomer, you can kid yourself that the dangers are all just imagined.

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But no, they are certainly real enough.

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Today, though, Jaco is keen to show me a different side to the Kruger.

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A fresh African landscape, somewhere to really appreciate the magic of true wilderness.

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It's much more green here.

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Yes, we're in a river bed, Julia. It's called the Mlambane.

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It's obviously dry at this time of year.

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It only really flows after heavy local rain.

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Still a bit of greenery around, and obviously it's a nice view.

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Lovely view.

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Lovely trees.

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Ten years ago, the Mlambane flowed for an entire year, but such events are rare.

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But that doesn't stop the river from being a vital landmark for flora and fauna.

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Animals dig deep in the sandy riverbed to find moisture, and the banks are dominated by sycamore fig.

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Their roots help to stabilise the riverbank.

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And the river also attracts a new musical accompaniment,

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with crested loeries, hornbills, woodpeckers, starlings,

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and, this morning, a Wahlberg's eagle.

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BIRDSONG

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Listen. This really is a birdwatcher's paradise.

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There are around 450 species in this National Park,

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and I think most of them are here now!

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It's quite unusual to have a job like yours, that will have changed so little over, say, 100 years.

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There isn't much difference. Walking now, here,

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doing it as a job, in my case, and walking here 500,000 years ago, in essence there's no difference.

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Now, this is a malaria area.

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How do you protect yourself against malaria?

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Because you can't be on malaria pills all year round!

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No, you can't drink it all the time,

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because it's got a lot of bad, negative effects.

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I don't like to say it, but I had malaria 12 times.

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12 times, you've had it?

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Yeah. I ended up in hospital on two occasions, I was quite sick. But again, I waited too long.

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If you catch it in the early development stages of the parasite in the blood, it's easier to cure it.

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If you wait too long and you start getting the fevers, then it's almost already too late.

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I'll keep on taking the pills!

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The simple mosquito has a deserved reputation,

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but it's arguably been a source of salvation for the Kruger National Park.

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For centuries, it's helped keep the human masses at bay,

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and preserved this land as a true stretch of wild Africa.

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There's a rhino as well.

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'My wilderness experience is almost at an end.

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'But as we leave the river and head towards the rocky high ground of the Wolhuter,

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'we're back in the favoured plains of the rhino.'

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We've got a rhino here, just below the dead tree.

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See the grey shape?

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Oh, yes, yes, yes.

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It's turning. Big...

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It looks like a big territorial bull.

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Phew.

0:23:480:23:50

He's a monster.

0:23:500:23:52

Hasn't heard us yet, he'll pick us...

0:23:520:23:54

The wind is quiet at the moment.

0:23:540:23:57

But if he comes this way, I want you to move... To follow me now.

0:23:570:24:01

Follow you now?

0:24:010:24:02

Come on, get behind this tree.

0:24:020:24:05

'For the first time in two days, Jaco is on edge in an instant.'

0:24:070:24:11

Just behind this branch here.

0:24:220:24:26

-He knows we're here. He can hear us.

-Uh-huh.

0:24:330:24:37

He's difficult. You can see, he means business.

0:24:440:24:48

-Yeah.

-Just stay there.

-Yep.

0:24:480:24:50

I'll do exactly what he tells us.

0:24:500:24:53

Come, come, come.

0:24:560:24:58

Gee.

0:25:160:25:18

He's still watching us.

0:25:230:25:25

Right.

0:25:280:25:29

He's definitely a massive, big, territorial bull.

0:25:310:25:35

And they're normally very reluctant to leave their areas, because this is his area.

0:25:350:25:39

He's definitely picked us up, but I think it's more that he could hear us than see the movement.

0:25:420:25:47

I just want to get us away from here. This is his area.

0:25:470:25:51

-He's not going to leave it, so I think we should rather leave.

-OK.

0:25:510:25:55

Jaco and John have the utmost respect for this land.

0:26:040:26:07

That much is clear.

0:26:070:26:08

Spending time with them has been an opportunity to relish.

0:26:100:26:13

So often as a traveller, experiences can seem a little packaged,

0:26:130:26:18

but as Jaco leads me up the bare rocks to our final viewpoint,

0:26:180:26:21

there's no doubting what a wild and unpackaged destination South Africa can be.

0:26:210:26:27

Just look at this view.

0:26:370:26:38

Look at that.

0:26:400:26:41

One of my favourite places.

0:26:430:26:45

Not difficult to see why.

0:26:450:26:47

No.

0:26:470:26:49

If you look down, you can see the camp.

0:26:490:26:51

-Yeah.

-And that was the hut you were staying in.

0:26:510:26:56

About as far as you can see, its all just the Wolhuter Wilderness Area.

0:26:560:27:00

It's just us.

0:27:000:27:02

This vast vista, untouched by the modern world,

0:27:050:27:08

is the pinnacle of my journey into the wilderness.

0:27:080:27:11

'Jaco likes to compare an experience like this to climbing a pyramid.'

0:27:110:27:16

'As you leave the outside world, you gradually shed the accessories and comforts of normal life,

0:27:160:27:21

'progressing to reach this remote spot of isolation in the Kruger.'

0:27:210:27:25

But unfortunately, life doesn't work like that.

0:27:260:27:30

You can't stay on the top of a pyramid forever.

0:27:300:27:33

It's the whole balance in life. What goes up must come down.

0:27:330:27:36

So, right now, let's enjoy it?

0:27:360:27:40

We're on the peak.

0:27:400:27:42

There's few better places in the Kruger Park where you can do that.

0:27:420:27:46

Thank you, Jaco, thanks for bringing me to the top of your pyramid.

0:27:460:27:49

It's been a pleasure.

0:27:490:27:51

The term "a unique experience" is quite musty and well-worn,

0:27:560:28:00

but there's no doubt that the Wolhuter Trail is incredibly special.

0:28:000:28:04

You don't know what you're going to experience, what you're going to see, what animals you may encounter.

0:28:040:28:10

And it's a liberating freedom.

0:28:100:28:12

Jaco said to me, when you drive through this country, you see the land,

0:28:120:28:17

but you feel the pulse of Africa through the soles of your shoes.

0:28:170:28:21

And its true.

0:28:210:28:23

You do.

0:28:240:28:25

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:460:28:50

E-mail subtitling@bbc.co.uk

0:28:500:28:53

Having tackled treks across the UK, Julia Bradbury embarks on a grand adventure in South Africa, setting out on four very different walks that explore its claim to be 'a world in one country'.

Julia is a regular visitor to the Rainbow Nation, but this is her chance to go far beyond the normal tourist destinations to a series of increasingly remote locations. However, these are all walks that any reasonably adventurous walker could embark on, and they offer a fresh and personal perspective on a friendly and fascinating country that is so often misunderstood.

Having progressed from South African coast to mountains, Julia ups the ante as she prepares to head out on foot in one of the world's most famous game reserves. Call it exhilarating or foolhardy, this is a walking adventure amongst the biggest and most dangerous beasts in Africa. But Julia is well looked after by Jaco, an expert game ranger who proves that the Kruger is far more than just big cats and elephants. This is a unique opportunity to roam freely in one of the world's true wildernesses.